In my last entry, I mentioned that bodyweight exercise is not exclusive to smaller athletes. You don’t need to be a lightweight to benefit from the convenience and effectiveness of calisthenics. Naturally, certain exercises will be more difficult for larger athletes, but the added difficulty is not necessarily a bad thing. Exercising with a larger body can actually be a blessing in disguise.
Exercise vs. Sport
Before I elaborate on the benefits of heavyweight calisthenics, it is important to differentiate between exercise and sport. As a coach, I am paid to develop athletes so that they can succeed in sport. Exercise is not the end goal. For instance, a boxer will not receive bonus points on the scorecards because he can perform a certain number of pushups or pull-ups. These exercises are not the event. Instead, they are performed with hopes of improving performance in a given event.
The reason I highlight this seemingly obvious difference is to remind larger athletes that exercise performance is not the ultimate goal. Heavyweights should not expect to compete in calisthenic events with athletes who are a fraction of their size. It is obviously easier for a 120 pound athlete to perform one-arm chin-ups than it is for a 250 pound heavyweight. The struggles that the larger man might experience should not be viewed in a negative fashion however.
Bigger = Less Complexity
I’ve trained consistently for over 20+ years. Throughout that time, I have worked with countless modalities, but bodyweight exercise has always been a staple in my routine. Ironically, as I’ve become stronger over the years, certain bodyweight movements have become more difficult. If I rewind back to the 1990s, I was a welterweight boxer who weighed no more than 145 pounds. At that weight, I could perform endless reps of many bodyweight exercises.
Currently, I am almost 50 pounds heavier than my former self. Thus, while I am infinitely stronger than I was as a youngster, I must work harder to move and control my larger frame. I am dealing with more resistance. I welcome the added difficulty though. I don’t need as much complexity to be challenged. I can receive a quality workout with a few basic exercises.
Whether my younger self could perform more reps of a given movement is irrelevant to me. I am stronger and more capable in other ways. For example, my heavier weight might diminish certain bodyweight skills, but it also improves many of my lifts. I can certainly deadlift more weight at 190 pounds than I could as a small welterweight. Ultimately, it’s a trade-off that I am willing to make.
Compete Against Yourself
I write this entry not to suggest that heavier athletes cannot perform advanced bodyweight movements. My point is to simply remind such athletes that it is more challenging. Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to keep pace with a smaller athlete when performing calisthenics. Focus on the big picture rather than harping on a single exercise or modality.
Using myself as an example, I still perform many of the same exercises I did as a youngster. I just need to work harder than I did before. For instance, one arm rollouts (as seen above) are much more difficult at a heavier weight. I actually like the fact that I need to work harder however. It is easier for me to be challenged. And if I don’t perform as many reps as I once did, I remind myself that I am stronger in other ways.
In summary, never lose sight of the fact that each body is unique. Whether you can perform the same exercises that another person performs does not determine your success or failure. It’s healthier and more rewarding to instead embrace your uniqueness while competing against yourself. Always strive to become a better version of yourself, rather than trying to become someone that you are not.
“There’s nothing like biting off more than you can chew, and then chewing anyway.” – Mark Burnett
I’m 46 and have spent many years (probably too many) training for endurance activities. Although as a youngster, I was strong for my size, I am now not much bigger but am a lot weaker. I started my journey into calisthenics for strength only recently. I weigh less than 140 pounds and while I can do a good set of push-ups, dips and pull-ups, what I see on YouTube and Facebook are people that are way better than me. However, and as you have pointed out, it is you against you. I improve week by week and that is sufficient for me. I look at other athletes with great abilities as a source of motivation rather than competition. So long as I’m happy that I’m working hard, then I’m happy.
I believe that calisthenics is actually more important as we age than pumping iron. Though both are great. As we age we lose speed and flexibility but the power lingers much longer. It’s like the aging boxer, last thing to go is his punch. The older fighter is a little slower and loses a little of the primal instinct to just fire blows at will at the target. I am at the Fitness gym all the time and see guy’s in there 60’s all barrel chested and still huge. However they look so stiff and rigid. All I see them due is benching, leg presses , Bicep curls and tricep extension. Calisthenics are so vital in keeping us quick and flexible. So vital for the aging warrior.
Im 38, ive been pumping Iron since a teen. Im. 6’2″ and 255 lbs. in my younger years all I did were weights, but recently ive fallen in love with calistenics and outdoor workouts. I still like to lift iron and do odd lifts but as I get older Im noticing that im stiff, inflexible and sore a lot of the time. Im weening off weights slowly and really getting unto BW stuff. As posted above I feel it helps keeps athleticism and flexibility. Although im decently strong in conventional lifts, 340lb bench, 500lb deadlift yada yada being 255 lbs is really tough for calistenics!!! But challenge accepted!!
Glad I found this article. In the last 8-10 months I went from 82 kg to 85 kg. Not fat, but bigger and stronger. However, the number of reps for pull-ups and dips is a bit smaller now and I was wondering why. I see that I have more strength than before, no question. This article explains very well my observations. Thanks.